The self-sufficient Seychelles island that may hold the secret for small island states
Evening beach scene at Denis Island in the Seychelles. Adrian Scottow / Flickr
The Seychelles knows it can’t keep other countries from behaving in a manner that turns nature into the enemy for it and its island peers, so it’s doing what it can for now to lengthen out the time it spends above water.
Called “the island at the end of the world,” Denis Island is one of Seychelles’ 115 islands. Once an important coconut plantation, this privately owned slice of paradise in the western Indian Ocean could hold answers to some of the most troubling problems facing small island states around the world.
Through an “agrotourism” approach that brings together private and public sectors, where a working small-scale fishery and farm simultaneously operate in parallel with an up-market resort, this tiny island is almost completely self-sufficient. It produces its own fish, pork, chicken, duck, eggs, fresh milk, and a range of vegetables and fruits for its inhabitants. For a country that has to import 90 per cent of the food consumed, the success of Denis Island could be a lesson for the rest of Seychelles, and beyond.
With a population of about 86,000 and per capita income of more than US$11,000, Seychelles is an upper-middle-income country with a gross domestic product of $1 billion in 2011, generated primarily through fisheries and tourism. Industrial fishing has surpassed tourism as a source of foreign exchange earnings, with the emergence of Port Victoria as the principal tuna trans-shipment port in the region during the mid-1980s and the development of tuna canning in the late 1990s. Artisanal fishing, however, remains underdeveloped, and like many small island states, unpredictable weather patterns associated with climate change have adversely affected the productivity of small-scale fishers and farmers in Seychelles. In 2010, for instance, the country suffered its worst drought in decades, followed by severe flooding.
Small island developing states like Seychelles are the first to be afflicted by climate change and struggle with its consequences. Plagued by limited natural resources, scarce agricultural land and remoteness from major markets, Seychelles, like other small islands states, are unable to depend on the income of any specific industry. This makes the country financially and food insecure, which in the case of Seychelles is further exacerbated by the scourge of piracy that severely inflates prices or in some instances, completely block the precious food imports it relies on.
While Seychelles aims to be an active participant in regional and global trade, the country is at a severe disadvantage because of its small market size and almost non-existent economies of scale. Imported food is sold in local markets at substantially lower prices than locally-produced food. In some instances local producers of poultry, for example, have been forced out of markets because they are unable to compete.
To address this, Seychelles is looking to diversify and promote fresh, locally produced livestock and vegetables, including organic produce, to supply the “haut de gamme” or upscale tourism establishments and local markets. Mixing agriculture and tourism can provide high-quality, organic products to hotels, supermarkets and other markets, as well as increasing employment opportunities for youth. This kind of approach allows the two sectors to not only coexist but complement each other. Such partnerships are critical to enhance agricultural and rural development.
In addition, as one of the world’s most environmentally conscious nations, Seychelles has also legally protected more than half of its total land area from development. The experience of Seychelles and success stories like that of Denis Island are important to share with other small island states looking for ways to strengthen partnerships between agriculture and tourism.
When knowledge is shared across borders, and information, technology and support are directly transferred to smallholder farmers it can be the most effective way to reduce poverty and increase food security. An ongoing International Fund for Agricultural Development grant supports the Regional Initiative for Smallholder Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change in the Indian Ocean Islands. This initiative is creating a regional knowledge-management platform on adaptation strategies for small-scale farmers. The platform actively disseminates information on conservation agriculture practices such as farming with low or zero tillage, as well as composting, integrating livestock and farming activities, and other environmentally sustainable measures.
This kind of sharing between countries or regions facing similar challenges allows for policies and agricultural projects to be based on a broader risk assessment and a better understanding of interconnections between people and their environmental landscapes. Replicating best practices can drive a major scaling up of sustainable agricultural intensification approaches, which, in turn, can build climate resilience that goes beyond just one island, or one rural community. At the same time, we must be careful not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and rural development, but rather tailor solutions to the specific problems of rural communities.
As we look ahead to further progress in the agricultural sector in small island states, let us keep in mind that the challenge of growing more food will be met only if we continue to look for complementary solutions that allow farmers to adapt and develop. Scaling up public-private initiatives not only supports resilience to climate change, but also contributes to meeting the world’s food security, environmental and poverty reduction challenges. In a globalized world, no longer can the solutions to problems of people on one side of the world be ignored by those on the other side – especially when a small island “at the end of the world” may hold the key to solving big problems.
Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
Peter Sinon, Seychelles Minister of Investment, Natural Resources and Industry